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WorldTour maintains status quo with 18 teams — for now

The UCI announces it will keep cycling's top level filled with 18 teams for 2017, although that will be reduced to 16 by 2020.

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The UCI’s WorldTour league remains 18 teams, at least for now. Plans to reduce the top-level of the men’s peloton to 16 teams are put on hold until 2020.

In an agreement hashed out during meetings this week in Geneva, the Professional Cycling Council (PCC) steered around reducing the WorldTour status to just 17 teams next season.

Despite the closure of IAM Cycling and Tinkoff, there are new teams coming on next season, with Bahrain – Merida and Peter Sagan’s new home at Bora – Hansgrohe expected to step up. Dimension Data was on the bubble, but will likely stay at the WorldTour level thanks to the compromise approved Tuesday.

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The UCI stated Wednesday that the WorldTour will remain at 18 teams for 2017 and 2018, with the roll back to 17 happening by 2019. By 2020, there will be 16 WorldTour teams.

“We are pleased that a new set of UCI WorldTour regulations have been agreed,” UCI president Brian Cookson said in a press release. “We welcome the robust changes which bring about clearer guidelines in relation to team licensing and provide greater financial stability for UCI WorldTeams, as well as expanding the series globally in a sustainable manner.”

What does this mean for teams? First, it provides room for the entrance of the new arrivals like Bahrain, Bora, and the new Chinese sponsors that will take over for Lampre – Merida. Second, it will keep Dimension Data (whose title sponsor has a separate deal with Tour de France owners ASO) at the WorldTour level. And third, it will give teams and sponsors breathing room to consolidate their business models moving forward.

Will the UCI eventually trim the WorldTour to 16 teams? That remains to be seen. The idea is enthusiastically supported by ASO, but it has lukewarm support among teams and sponsors. The UCI is working to find a middle ground, and said there remains additional study on the topic. For now, it’s being held off for two more seasons. By then, the sponsorship landscape could change dramatically.

Wednesday’s announcement also spelled out revised participation rules for new WorldTour events being added to the calendar for 2017.

There has been some criticism against the expanded WorldTour racing calendar as being too far-flung and costly for teams to manage, with organizers of second-tier races saying it will make their projects even more precarious. To counter this, the PCC said the newly added events (which are being granted three-year licenses) will not include mandatory starts similar to the existing WorldTour-level races. In other words, all 18 top teams will be invited, but it’s up to them to decide if they want to race.

To address a possible conflict over points, the “UCI World Ranking points scale will now be used also to determine the UCI WorldTour Rankings, removing the complexity of two points scales,” the release stated.

The UCI said regulations and details will be published prior to the UCI WorldTour seminar on December 6-7 on Mallorca, Spain.